B.C. Housing pledges to fix problems at low-income rentals

Marble Arch tops list of problem sites for fire hazards, plumbing, wiring and maintenance

The B.C. government says it is taking meaningful steps to address more than 400 health and safety violations at 14 low-income hotels it owns in the Downtown Eastside.

The bylaw infractions or issues were listed on the online database the City of Vancouver launched Feb. 6 that identifies problem rental properties.

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Faulty wiring, fire hazards, plumbing problems and various maintenance concerns were identified on the database which aims to give renters information on housing.

In terms of infractions by the City of Vancouver, we are taking meaningful steps to address them through a capital investment of nearly $1 million at 21 single-room occupancy hotels, the governments housing branch, B.C. Housing, said in a statement to the Courier.

The government-owned Marble Arch Hotel at 518 Richards St. topped the list of the 14 hotels with 141 infractions, including problems related to fire alarms and extinguishers, wiring, plumbing and building code issues.

The bulk of the infractions 120 fell under the standards of maintenance bylaw. The citys database didnt itemize each of the 120 infractions, although the bylaw covers issues such as inadequate heat and hot water, pest infestations, tripping hazards on stairs and hallways and leaky faucets.

Scott Bonnyman, who lives on the top floor of the Marble Arch, moved in to the hotel last July. Bonnyman, who is in a wheelchair, rattled off a list of problems with his $375 per month room, including rodent infestation.

No water, heat only works part time and I went to turn my lights on and sparks flew out of [the switch] and I lost all power, he said, adding that every time it rains, his room leaks. It is not fit for a dog to live in.

When told of the hotels 141 infractions, Bonnyman wasnt surprised and wants the owners do something about it. Quite frankly, he said, hes afraid to sleep in his room.

Its a death trap, he added.

Statistics supplied to the Courier from Vancouver Fire-Rescue Services showed firefighters responded to the Marble Arch 150 times in 2012.

The majority of calls were related to smoke detectors going off because of cigarette smoke and steam/smoke from cooking. Other calls included assaults, overdoses and various emergencies for medical help. Two cases were recorded as falls/jumper.

The Couriers check of the database Friday indicated the 141 violations related to the Marble Arch had dropped to 65. No explanation was given.

The 14 hotels under scrutiny by the City of Vancouver are home to many tenants suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. They live on social assistance and require medical attention and counselling.

The Marble Arch is one of 13 hotels the government has started to renovate and restore. In October 2012, the government announced the Marble Arch would be first on the list for the work.

The Gastown Hotel, with 122 bylaw infractions, is also on the governments list to be renovated. The bulk of the infractions 116 were related to the standards of maintenance bylaw and others involving faulty smoke alarms and fire hazards.

The government acknowledged in October 2012 the hotels, which are more than 100 years old, have structural, plumbing and electrical problems.

We recognize these are very old buildings which house a vulnerable population and that is why we make significant investments each year to ensure their safety and security, said the statement from B.C. Housing to the Courier.

The citys database for problem rental properties includes single-room occupancy hotels, private rental housing, social housing and supportive housing units.

They account for about 2,500 buildings, or 70,000 of Vancouvers 131,000 rental units. Currently, there are 300 buildings in the database that have open violations or current issues.

mhowell@vancourier.com

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